Last updated: 9/17/19
Nancy LT Hamilton author
For more information please see my Q&A webpage on Rolling Mills
and my YouTube video: How to Use a Rolling Mill.
Note: some of my links are affiliate links. By shopping via these links you help to donate to this page and to my over 120 YouTube videos – all of which are free to you. Notice there’s no ads on this page? By using affiiate links to purchase products you help to keep this page clean of advertising flotsam – for now! Affiliate links do not affect you in any way. It is just a program that vendors employ to help advertise their products and they pay a small percentage (SMALL!) to those of us who provide links to their products. It’s a win-win. My Amazon links are via Smile Amazon which is a program where they donate a small percentage to a charity of my choice. So, you are helping out even more! My charity of choice is Chimera Arts where I run a small, public jewelry studio. Check out Chimera online: http://www.chimeraarts.org.
What’s the Scoop on Rolling Mills?
Rolling mills have a variety of metal-working uses. I use mine to pattern metal or to reduce metal thickness – like creating 24g sheet from 20g. Occasionally, I use my rolling mill to reduce wire thickness, to create graduated wire and to manufacture square, round and half-round wire. You can also use a rolling mill when fold-forming and to create sheet from ingots. If you cut your bezel wire too short, before soldering, roll it through the mill – with minimal pressure at first. Don’t forget to anneal it!
Some mills have built-in pattern rollers – which is rather limiting unless you loooooovvvvve that pattern! There are tons of other ways to obtain patterns from the rolling mill. Of course, that will be covered in this page.
**Remember: quality mills should last a lifetime (or more) so, to justify the expense (to yourself and/or your significant other, just say: “Wow darling or Wow self, the cost of this (insert tool name here) works out to only 50.00 a year and aren’t I worth that?” or something similarly convincing and heartfelt. Another line to try is the equally witty and persuasive: “think of the money I’m saving you (myself)!” (you MUST say this with the utmost conviction and seriousness – as if his/her/your financial well-being rests on this purchase). Although, neither line has been sufficient to convince my husband that these expenditures are truly a benefit to him. Yet, I can’t help but feel, that just by saying these things, I am demonstrating my thrifty and considerate nature. What an angel!
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Tip: Mark, on your mill, maybe with a Sharpie or tape, which direction to turn the handle to open the rollers. It saves time and you don’t have to keep checking or screwing up your tension.
Notes on Purchasing Rolling Mills
***When you purchase a rolling mill, be sure to consider how wide the flat rollers are: you don’t want a rolling mill that can only roll out narrow strips of metal (or maybe you do!). Determine what your needs are and buy accordingly.
Mills come in varying designs. Some include wire grooves, pattern rollers and flat rollers. When thinking about what you want to buy consider the following elements:
- Gear Ratio. The economy rolling mill has a 1:1 ratio that means it takes one turn to compete one rotation. Pepetools and Durston have gear ratios of 4:1 and Durston also has some with a 5:1 ratio. What does this mean? With a 4:1 ratio, four turns of the handle will roll the rollers one full rotation. Likewise, the 5:1 needs 5 turns for every full rotation. This gear ratio is important because: 1. It is easier and less stressful on your body the more turns you have to make. A 4:1 gear ratio is also like having 4 times the strength whereas a direct mill requires much more physical effort. 2. You don’t get flat areas or indents, like with a direct drive (1:1) as it doesn’t turn as smoothly. 3. You have more control over the rolling process.
- Roll Width: 90 mm (This is the total length of the roller)
- Roll Diameter: 42.6 mm (This is the diameter of the roller)
- Max. Opening: 4 mm thick (This is the widest that the rollers will open)
- Flat Area: 39 mm (This is the width available for rolling flat sheet. In this instance (39 mm), Americans, that is 1.535 inches!) Get out a ruler and see if this will work for you – probably not!
- Square Wire: 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.5, 7.0 mm (This means it will make square wire and the gauges it will make).
- Ring shank, Half Round Wire: 2.5 x 1, 3 x 1.25, 4 x 1.5 mm. In the example here, this means that it has a 1/2 round roller and a flat roller. 1/2 round wire rolls. Half-round wire can also be made by running two pieces of wire through two round rollers. When the wire is squished together, one side will be round and the side where the wires meet (center) will be flat. Having a two-round rollers would offer you more wire rolling choices: round and 1/2 round.
- There are other types of wire that you can make with a rolling mill. There are also mills that only roll wire.
Suppliers of Rolling Mills
There are a few different types of rolling mills. Generally, buy the best that you can afford. If that means saving up, for a while, do so, as the differences between the cheap mill and the great mill are huge. Saying that I used el cheapo for about 5 years – until it cracked. I used liquid nails to glue it back together and still used it (carefully) for a while for rolling wire. It finally died – completely broke apart. Also, el cheapo’s rollers constantly get out of alignment-meaning – that I was always adjusting the gap between the rollers. Not fun for me. Another flaw is the gear ratio which is 1-1 on the el cheapos. That means more work and more strenght needed. As I age, this becomes more of an obstacle to me using the tool. The good quality mills have a gear ratio of 4:1 and 5:1 (I’ve even heard of 7:1). The higher the ratio, the less work you have to do meaning there’s a lot less wear and tear on your body.
Presented below are a variety mills for your consideration ranging from el cheapo to wow, that’s a lot of money!
There are inexpensive rolling mills out there but, you do get what you pay for! Here’s a general link to Smile Amazon that offers quite a few mills that will cost you less than $250 – in some cases less that $200.
My new favorite rolling mills are from Pepetools. They have a wide variety of mills that range in price from only $495.00 on Amazon to the electric powerhouse version for about $4,250.00. (Boy are the electric mills fun and STRONG!). Any of their mills will last more than a lifetime. Customer service is fantastic. They are located in Oklahoma.
Durston also makes quality mills that will last a lifetime.
- Otto Frei’s Economy rolling mill only comes with two flat rollers BUT, you can buy a bunch of different rollers for this mill. It starts at $220.00 US and the roller pairs for wire rolling are $75.00. There are also many different pattern rollers available from $24.00 – $50.00. Otto Frei carries a wide range of mills in varying price ranges.
- Contenti has a large selection of Durston mills as well as economy brands.
- FDJ carries Pepe’s rolling mills.
- Micro Tools carries Pepetools’ mills.
- Pepetools has a wide range of mills from their economy version to the electric double mill.
- Rio Grande carries Durston’s mills. Durston has, in recent years, offered less expensive versions than they used to have. They now sell an econmy 110mm flat roller version for $529.00.
- Amazon, of course has tons of mills in a variety of price ranges.
Electric Rolling Mills
Let’s not forget about the electric mill and the double electric mill! The workhorses of the rolling mill crowd!
Check out Pepetools’ electric mills.
Contenti carries Pepetools’ single electric mill (130mm flat) (Model 189.99.EL-120v) for as little as $1,888.00. Micro Tools also carries the 189.99 model. Pepe also carries an electric, all wire version (XD-19030EL) and a combo version (XD189.00-120 volt).
Electric mills are a dream to operate. They reduce thick stock in 1/10 (or less) of the time it takes with a hand cranked version. If I didn’t already own a hand mill, I’d jump on one of these! I hate making sheet metal from ingots by hand rolling, as it takes hours of cranking! Electric mills remove fatigue from the process. You just put in the metal and push a button (or something similar). I watched David Aisenman from Pepetools reduce a penny to around 34 gauge in approximately 3 run throughs and in only a few seconds. I was impressed!
If you are running a shop or need extra power or have physical limitations or just want more options, check out Pepes’ 160mm Double Ultra Series X drive that rolls flat sheet and can also roll out 6 different types of wire: comfort fit, round, square, bezel, triangle and half-round. Wow! If I had the money and the space, I’d take two! Micro Tools carries this version. For suppliers or more information, Pepetools would love to work with you personally. Just drop them an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at: 405-745-4054. Made in the USA.
Durston also makes excellant electric mills. They have a single electric combination mill available at Rio Grande, Otto Frei and other suppliers. Amazon also carries several models. Rio Grande and Otto Frei also carry the 130mm combo double mills. Made in England.
Rolling Mills Outside of the USA
- Australia: Goldsmith Tools
- Canada: Lacy West
- Chile: Rossé
- India: Tools Impex
- Mexico: Bedean
- South Africa: BJ Oberholzer
- UK: Cookson Gold, Walsh, Durston
You need someplace to put your mill right? Well, I just bolted mine to my bench. Easy-ish! Of course I had to drill bolt holes, get someone to help me lift it, line it all up and tighten it down. An hour or so later, I was done!
Stands are another option for those that have the space. What ever method you choose for mounting your mill, plan on it staying there – these things are HEAVY!
Here is one type of stand from Harbor Freight – best for a heavier mill. Just bolt a thick piece of wood to the top and then bolt down the mill.
There are also stands designed specifically for rolling mills. Otto Frei carries Pepetools’ and Durston’s versions. Rio Grande carries Durston’s.
Pepetools rolling mill stand. At Otto Frei (Part No: 128.180) and other locations.
When placing your mill, take into consideration: Can I turn the handle without smacking into anything? Will the handle block anything (many are removable – something to consider!), is the surface stable and strong enough to accommodate the stresses involved? Do I have enough room to feed the metal into? Do I have enough room for the metal to leave the mill? Make sure that the stand or mill is attached well and that it can’t tip over. You don’t want all that steel crashing down onto your feet! Not to mention the damage it may cause to the mill and your floor.
I use nuts and bolts to mount mine to my bench. Check that they don’t loosen over time or life will become way too interesting and way too scary!
Using the Rolling Mill
Always start with annealed metal.
Always roll in the same direction. Anneal and then roll in a different direction (if necessary). Don’t switch directions mid-roll without annealing first. You can fracture the metal if you don’t.
Roll about 4-8 times and then anneal. You’ll be able to tell when it’s time to anneal as the metal won’t move much.
With brass or bronze pattern plates, you place your metal to be embossed against the pattern plate. Hold the two pieces of metal together and feed into the mill. You may want to tighten the rollers down a bit so it’s a tightish fit. Don’t use tape to hold them together unless you want to spend 1/2 hour cleaning the rollers. I know this is true as I’ve done it.
Put your metal sandwich into the mill. Tighten down the rollers but, not too tight. It should be easy to turn the T-bar. Turn your dials to zero or write down the number. (See the top of the mill). Open the rollers. Remove the metal. Now, tighten down the rollers until they are either at zero or the number you wrote down (remember – no metal in there yet!). Give the T-bar an additonal 1/3 to 1/2 of a full twist. Test. The pressure shouldn’t be so great that you can’t turn it without using your full body. You might need two hands but, don’t lay on it – that’s too tight. If the rollers are too tight you deform your metal AND can ruin your machine! Conversely, you don’t want the pressure to be too light or your pattern won’t imprint. It takes some practice and it’s always wise to take notes. It’s amazing how quickly we can forget things!
I like to roll similar gauges, all at the same time. That way, I know what the settings will be and don’t have to keep changing them.
If you are using steel, organics, fabrics, etc. in the mill it is imperative to make a sandwich of brass or paper around the patterning material. If you are rolling a steel pattern, you need to make a brass or bronze sandwich. Put your pattern and transfer metal between the sheets of brass or bronze. Ensure that the steel doesn’t hang out the sides. Rolling steel, unprotected, through the mill will permantly mar your rollers. The rollers are very, very expensive to repair! So, don’t do it!
Organic and fabrics (and other random materials) can have glues, additives or moisture present. These things will either gum up your rollers or cause permanent damage. With softer objects, you can make a sandwich using card stock, paper towels or other soft materials. Simply fold the card stock in half, add your metal and your pattern and roll. Don’t roll green plant matter through the mill. The moisture will damage the rollers.
After you anneal your metal, dry it well and let it sit for 10 minutes to fully dry. Ensure that your hands are really dry too. Wet metal and hands are sure to cause rust spots on your rollers that will transfer to your metal.
Ways to Pattern Metal
- Paper cut-outs
- Pattern Sheets
- Laser cut cardstock
- Dry Organic Material – make sure when using leaves or flowers that they are dry. Never roll green plant material.
- Fabrics like lace work well.
- Embossed paper.
- Etched brass or bronze plates.
- Yarn, threads, twine.
- Many other things.
Maintaining Your Rolling Mill
- Oil often. Some good people clean up after every use. You can use 3 in 1 oil to wipe the rollers with.
- Cover, if possible. This prevents dust from accumulating on the rollers. If you live in a humid climate, drizzle a bath towel with 3 in 1 oil and stry to rub it through the fabric. Cover the mill with the oiled towel.
- If you own an economy mill, you will probably have to adjust the rollers from time to time. See Melissa Muir’s video, below.
- Keep rollers dry. If they get wet, dry immediately.
- If your rollers get damaged and the damage is slight, you can use a car metal polish. If absolutely necessary, use a fine grit sandpaper like 3M’s Tri-M-Ite Polishing paper and 3 and 1 oil. Gently sand the spots using finer and finer grits of sandpaper. Finish off with metal polish. Be sure to remove all grit left by the sandpaper when you are done using a rag or paper towel coated with something like 3 in 1 oil.
- I make a little roller jig from a dowel, a piece of rag (or paper towel) and some 3 in 1 oil. Cut the dowel to the width of the roller. Place the dowel into the center of a soft rag/paper towel, that has been lightly coated in oil. Tighten down the rollers. Feed the folded rag into the mill by turning the crank. The dowel will stop the rag from feeding through and the rollers will roll over the oil soaked rag. I usually do this several times a year but should do it everytime I use the machine. Reverse the rag with use so that you don’t add back dirt to the rollers. Eventually wash it or get a new one.
- When you are done rolling, open the rollers so that they are not touching.
- Please see this excellent video by Ronda Coryell on maintaining your rollers.
- Melissa Muir has a video on adjusting your rollers when they aren’t level.
- Celtic Dreams has a video on how to strip down and oil the economy rolling mill.
- Pepetools instructions for the Ultra Series Rolling Mills.
- How to Use a Rolling Mill. Youtube, Nancy LT Hamilton
- Q&A: Rolling Mills. NancyLTHamilton,com
- Jewelry Making Daily: Metalsmithing Essentials: 13 Tips on How to Use a Rolling Mill and How to Buy One. Blog.
- Rio Grande: Roller Printing. Video.
- Rio Grande: Texturing Metal for Jewelry. Video.
- Whaley Studios: Preview of Using a Rolling Mill to Create Various Wire Shapes and Sheet Forms. Video.